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Real-time GIS ‘will transform industry’

Insurers could achieve huge business benefits by using real-time geographic information systems (GIS), an industry expert says.

Many already use the technology to create flood or fire maps for pricing and exposure estimates, according to Gary Johnson, of GIS Insurance Industry Specialist Esri Australia.

But they work with historic information after events, he says. The latest development is the systems’ ability to harvest and map data in real time.

“Our GeoEvent Processor allows the tracking of thousands of real-time pieces of location-based information,” Mr Johnson told

Data can come from various sources, including official feeds such as the Bureau of Meteorology, staff on the ground and social media.

“We see social media as just another source of information during a natural disaster,” Mr Johnson said. “It tends to be more up to date than official channels.”

Insurers that do not make the most of GIS could be left behind, he says.

Benefits include tracking the progress of disasters such as floods and fires in real time, then overlaying the information onto a book of business. This allows insurers to send alerts to policyholders, identify exposure levels and be on the scene quickly.

“When responding to natural disasters, speed is of the essence for any insurer. The insurer that can be there first can secure access to the best service providers for its customers.”

Mr Johnson says GIS was a hot topic among insurers at Esri’s Ozri conference this month in Brisbane.

Queensland Fire and Rescue Service gave a presentation on its use of mobile GIS technology in the field.

During ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald staff used rugged mobile devices to collect information and images on floods, obstructions and search locations. Data was fed to a control centre, aggregated and sent back to crews.

“It made sure everyone had all up-to-date information, and brought it together in the universal language of geography, which staff can interpret very rapidly,” Mr Johnson said.

He believes insurers could mirror this tactic during claims assessments, to ensure they are carried out in the most efficient way.

Mr Johnson says Esri plans to talk with insurers about ways they can implement GIS. “The interest is definitely there.”